Leisure (poem)

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"Leisure" is a poem by Welsh poet W. H. Davies, appearing originally in his Songs Of Joy and Others, published in 1911 by A. C. Fifield and then in Davies' first anthology Collected Poems, by the same publisher in 1916.

Structure[edit]

The poem is written as a set of seven rhyming couplets.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.


Appraisal[edit]

In his 1963 Critical Biography of Davies, Richard Stonesifer traces the origins of the poem back to the sonnet "The world is too much with us" by William Wordsworth, saying:

"But he went to school with Wordsworth's sonnet "The world is too much with us", and echoes from that sonnet resound throughout his work as from few other poems. Philosophically, no other single poem can be said to form the basis of so much of his poetry. The celebrated opening of his wise little poem "Leisure" has its origins here."[1]

Stonesifer traces the central idea to a number of Davies' other poems - "The housebuilder" (from the 1914 The Bird of Paradise), "A Happy Life" and "Traffic", as well as "Bells" and "This World".

Significance and legacy[edit]

Davies is generally best known for the opening two lines of this poem. It has appeared in most of the anthologies of his work and in many general poem anthologies, including:

Although it was to become Davies' best known poem, curiously it was not included in any of the five Georgian Poetry anthologies published by Edward Marsh between 1912 and 1922. Thirty two of Davies' other poems were.

The poem features, in spoken form, on the album Anthology of 20th Century English Poetry (Part I), originally issued in 1960 on the Folkways Records label and has been used in British television advertisements, including those for Center Parcs and Orange Mobile.[citation needed]

The poem was mis-quoted, by the KGB, in a 1991 secret message to their spy inside the FBI, Robert Hanssen.

Dear Friend:
Time is flying. As a poet said:
"What's our life,
If full of care
You have no time
To stop and stare?"
You've managed to slow down the speed of Your running life to send us a message. And we appreciate it.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stonesifer, R. J. (1963), W. H. Davies - A Critical Biography, London: Jonathan Cape, pp. 219-220. ISBN B0000CLPA3.
  2. ^ "AFFIDAVIT IN SUPPORT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. CRIMINAL NO. ROBERT PHILIP HANSSEN, (Paragraph 122)". FBI. Retrieved 23 October 2013.